ILLUSTRATIONS
        Jews observe Hanukkah about the same time that Christians celebrate Christmas.  Hanukkah recalls the events of 164 B.C. when Judas Maccabeus reclaimed power and purged and restored the temple at Jerusalem after years of uselessness.  On the day of dedication, there was only enough oil for the temple lamps to burn for one day.  According to Jewish tradition, the lamps continued to burn, miraculously, for eight days.  Of course there is nothing in the Bible about this, and it is likely such a miracle never occurred.  But this is the background for Hanukkah and the motto of Hanukkah is, "A Great Miracle Has Happened!"  What a pitiful contrast to the great miracle of Christmas.  We commemorate a greater event, a greater miracle, a better light.

        In Iceland there are places where fiery volcanic activity goes on under the glacier!  Even so, beneath the icy exterior of some lives, there still smolders spiritual desire!  At Christmas, it breaks out!

        One Christmas Sunday, a minister preached on the subject of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  James T. Cleland remarked that that was not totally inappropriate, since Christmas is God's "New Deal"!

        A man said that in his childhood, they were so poor his mother could only afford one piece of candy at Christmas.  She melted it in hot water and each child took a leaf.  She put one drop of the liquid on each leaf, and the children licked them.
        He kept the leaf and put it out every Christmas.  When one visitor asked about it, he said, "That s the Christmas leaf.  Every year I take it out and lick it, and I remember how sweet Christmas was then!"

        Her husband had just died, and it didn't seem fitting to put up Christmas decorations.  But she decided to put up just one-- a nativity scene.  She said, "I didn't put it up because my husband died, but because Jesus was born."

        In an affluent neighborhood in California, a family decided to go out on Christmas Eve and serenade their neighbors with carols.  In one house where they stopped, there was hectic confusion with Christmas preparations and with rushing and tension; so the lady opened the door and said to the singers, "No now, please; we're too busy."  The gentleman in the grout merely said, "Yes, ma'am," and they moved away.  It was Bing and Kathy Crosby with their family.  If Jesus comes to our house and we say, "Not now, I'm busy," He'll move away, too.

        When we give each other Christmas presents in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun, the moon, the stars the earth with its forests, oceans, and mountains, and every thing that lives and moves.  He has given us all great things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit--and all that we quarrel about and everything that we have misused.  And to save us from all our selfishness and foolishness and from all our sins He came down to earth and gave us himself.

        We imagine the Bible lands on such a grand scale, it's hard for us to conceive of the fact that the site of Jesus'  birth
in Bethlehem and the site of His death on Golgatha are only about ten miles apart.  The proximity of the places of His birth and death remind us of the fact that Jesus came into the world to die for sinners.

        In the famous musical Mame, there is a production number that continually repeats the refrain, "We need a little
Christmas right this very minute."  Many people feel that way.  The Christmas holiday inspires them and makes them ready for the new year.  But the Christian can have a Christmas whenever he needs it, for Christ is constantly present.

        People were amazed a few years ago when then Chicago mayor Jane Byrne announced that she and her husband were moving from their posh apartment to live in a high rise in the infamous housing project called "Cabrini Green."  Cabrini Green was noted for drug trafficking, prostitution, murders, gang warfare, and loan sharking.  But the mayor's move was not nearly as dramatic as the move God made.  God came down to our crime-infested planet in the person of Jesus Christ.  He surrendered His glory to mix with the grime and grit of life on earth.

        The birth of a baby meant new life to Jennifer Forsthoffer.  The newspapers carried the story of how Bill and Doris
Forsthoffer could only do one thing to save the life of their daughter, who was dying of leukemia.  The only thing they could do was to have another child whose bone marrow could be implanted into Jennifer's.  In a very real sense, the birth of a baby brought new life to Jennifer.  We can t help but be reminded that the birth of a baby, Jesus, means new life for all of us.

        In C. S. Lewis'  book TheLion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, he takes us to the land of Narnia.  When Narnia is living under the authority of the witch, it is "always winter, but never Christmas."  Can you imagine how discouraging that would be to a child?  Still, there are people today who are living in a winter, and Christmas never comes to them.  What joy could be theirs if only they would allow Christmas to come to their hearts!

        A submarine was disabled beneath the sea along the Massachusetts coast.  Rescue operations were begun at once.  Divers communicated with those inside by tapping on the hull in Morse code.  Time was running out.  From inside a
question was slowly tapped, "Is there any hope?"  They were finally rescued, but if you listen, you can still hear that
tapping.  "Is there any hope?" Christmas answers, "Yes!" It is an emphatic "Yes!" It is a joyful "Yes!" It is a glorious
"Yes!"

        Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity was first built by St. Helen in 325.  Destroyed in 529, it was rebuilt thereafter.  The
Persians did not destroy it because the mosaic on the wall pictured Christ's birth--and the Wise-men were Persians!  The Muslims later came, but they venerate Jesus as a prophet; so they did not destroy it.  Today, it is the oldest church building in the world.  It is fascinating to think that the Wise-men who protected Jesus from Herod protected the church that honors His birth as well.

        The first voice broadcast on radio was a religious broadcast.  In 1906, a program of Christmas music was broadcast
to ships at sea.  Surely, this seemed almost as dramatic to those sailors as the angel's message was to the Galilean shepherds.

        One prophecy about Christ s coming says that "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low."  Another says, "A highway shall there be."  Rocks impede travel, but we grind them up and make a smooth road to speed travel.  The ancient tar pits held primitive animals fast, but we melt the tar and smooth our roads.  All those things that once hindered travel now accelerate it.  So Christ took the obstacles of life and made them paving stones on the way to Heaven.  He took the stumbling blocks and made them stepping stones.

        "Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins."  That was the announcement of His birth, and forgiveness is, therefore, always at the heart of the gospel.  When translators tried to find a term for forgiveness in one African language, they finally put, "God spit on the ground in front of us."  In that culture, to show love, you would spit on a man's head.  If two people had a disagreement, went to court, and were finally reconciled, they marked it by spitting on the ground.  So Jesus reconciled us to God, and to them that meant, "God spit on the ground in front of us."  Whether our description of it be crude or cultured, familiar or strange, we must all experience that reconciliation, which was the very purpose of Christ's coming into the world.

        A man from America visited Budapest, Hungary.  Over one building he saw a neon star.  Naively he thought,
"Somebody forgot to take down the Christmas decorations."  Then he remembered that it was the Red Star of communism, not the star of Bethlehem!  Today many are deciding whether they will follow the Red Star or the Bethlehem Star!

        You can see him still, in the Middle East and in Turkey and in Greece: the shepherd, leaning on his staff, roughly dressed.  It must be the most boring job on earth.  When you see one sheep eat grass, you've seen them all.  Among the Jews, the shepherd was looked down upon because his work prevented him from following the ritual washings they thought so important.
        So from every standpoint, the shepherd was the least likely person to receive the announcement of the birth of our
Lord.  From every standpoint except one.  From the heavenly standpoint, they were the most appropriate ones to receive the news of Christ s birth.  For the One coming into the world was the Great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who would lay down His life for His sheep.

        One listens to a cricket singing in his field and considers that he has no knowledge of other crickets in other fields,
some far away, some nearby.  He has no knowledge even of the cricket in the field across the road.  His world is one
patch of weeds, and his lifetime, a single summer.
        One thinks of ancient man, with no knowledge of countries and continents across the seas.  His own little
community is his world.  He knows no other.
        One thinks of the worlds unknown to us, of the outer limits of the universe about which we know next to nothing.  This little ball of mud, our whole universe, and our whole lifetime, these few years.  God has kept some greater knowledge in reserve for us for the future.
        But once in a while, God opens a window in that larger eternal, heavenly world.  He opened such a window at
Bethlehem when angels appeared to shepherds.  We learn this much: it is a world of heavenly messengers who do God's bidding, a world of peace, and a world where all glory is given to God.

        Richard Eder, writing in the International Herald Tribune, makes this fascinating statement.  "Truth burns all ways at
once, and in a sense, it doesn't matter where you stand."  Jesus came to be the living truth of God.  "I am truth," He said to Pilate.  "I am the way, the truth, and the life," He said to the disciples.  That living truth first dawned upon the world in the events of Bethlehem.  Right away, that truth began to burn its way into men s hearts: into the hearts of shepherds and Wise-men, Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon.  It still burns its way into the hearts of men.

            "Oh holy Child of Bethlehem,
            Descend to us we pray.
            Cast out our sin, and enter in;
            Be born in us today."

        The oldest book in the Bible is a book of drama: the book of Job.  The newest book in the Bible is a book of drama:
the book of Revelation.  It is neither a timetable nor a calendar, it is a drama.  And the heart of the Bible is a drama, a
real-life drama.  Nothing more dramatic than the birth of Christ ever happened.  Nothing more dramatic has ever been
alleged to have happened!  It was really acted out on that little Middle Eastern stage long ago.  The drama is revived in our hearts each Christmas season.  It has all the elements of drama: conflict, good, evil, romance, danger, adventure, death, and rescue.  It is surely the most dramatic event imaginable and it is true!

        To a Moslem, there is great merit in a visit to Mecca, and Moslems try to go at least once.  It used to be thought that there was great merit in a trip to Rome, though St. David's Cathedral in Wales was so highly honored that two visits there were said to be equal to one visit to Rome.  Some still believe that there is some spiritual merit in a trip to the Holy Land: to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  But we need not actually go to a physical Bethlehem.  We can go in our minds.  We can go in our hearts.  We can heed that call, "O come, all ye faithful, ... O come ye to Bethlehem.  Come and behold Him, born the King of angels."  In that spiritual journey, there is always great merit.

        The largest singly-owned cattle ranch in the world is in Hawaii on the Big Island.  It is the Parker Ranch and comprises 250,000 acres.  It all began with John Parker, a seaman who jumped ship there in 1809.  He rounded up some cattle that had been brought to the island and then allowed to run wild.  From this meager beginning, there came the largest individually owned cattle ranch in the world.  That is the kind of story we love: rags to riches; log cabin to White House.  Of course, the gospel story is just the opposite of that: riches to rags; White House to log cabin. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians that "though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor."  A close reading of the Christmas story will tell you how very poor He became.  He did it so that you might be rich: rich in another kind of wealth, in the coin of another realm.

        In Central Europe, they cut limbs from flowering trees in September.  Then in December, those limbs are brought into the house, where the warmth forces them to blossom and their pink and white flowers usher in the Christmas season.  But wherever one lives, Christmas is a time of spiritual beauty.  It need not be forced or contrived.  It is always there: the beauty of love, the beauty of sharing, the beauty of forgiveness.  These spiritual flowers blossom at Christmas in every climate.

We cannot gaze long at the transfigured Christ;
the shining glory hurts our eyes.

We cannot gaze long at the scarlet-robed Christ;
the mockery angers and infuriates us.

We cannot gaze long at the crucified Christ;
His pain and shame grieve us.

We cannot gaze long at the towel-robed Christ
washing feet in the upper room;
His humble service embarrasses us.

That s why we love Christmas; we can gaze as long as
we like at the infant Christ.

        Donald G. Barnhouse was invited to preach in a university chapel one Christmas.  Walking across the campus, a
professor asked him, "Are you going to preach that old farce again?"  To some, Christmas is an idle tale, a fiction, a farce!  To some, it is a force!

THE MIRACLE OF DREAMS

                That night when shepherds heard the song
                   Of hosts angelic choiring near,
                A deaf man lay in sumber's cell
                   And dreamed that he could hear.

                That night when in the cattle's stall
                   Slept Child and mother in humble fold,
                A cripple turned his twisted limbs
                   And dreamed that he was whole.

                That night when o'er the newborn Babe
                   A tender mother rose to lean,
                A loathsome leper smiled in sleep
                   And dreamed that he was clean.

                That night when to the mother's breast
                   The little king was held secure,
                A harlot slept a happy sleep
                   And dreamed that she was pure.

                That night when in a manger lay
                   The Holy One who came to save,
                A man turned in the sleep of death
                   And dreamed there was no grave.
                                                                    --Author Unknown

        Cynthia Jelkman celebrates two birthdays every year.  January 7 marks her entry into the world, and December 26 marks the day she received a new heart.  Christmas in 1977 could have been Cynthia's last.  She had a serious enlargement of the heart. Unless she had a transplant, her doctors believed she would die.  After endless tests, she got the Christmas present of a lifetime. A new heart.  A new chance on life.  The Christmas season means to all of us a new chance for life.

Let not our hearts be busy inns, that have no room for Thee,
But cradles for the living Christ and His nativity.
Still driven by a thousand cares, the pilgrims come and go;
The hurried caravans press on; the inns are crowded so!
Here are the rich and busy ones, with things that must be sold,
No room for simple things within this hostelry of gold.
Yet hunger dwells within these walls, these shining walls and bright,
And blindness groping here and there without a ray of light.
Oh, lest we starve, and lest we die, in our stupidity,
Come, Holy Child, within and share our hospitality.
Let not our hearts be busy inns, that have no room for Thee,
But cradles for the living Christ and His nativity.
                                                                                --Ralph Spaulding Cushman

        It was in the middle of January when a man sitting in his living room heard a thin, piping voice singing, "O Come All Ye Faithful."  He went to his front door and opened it, and there was a little boy singing Christmas carols.
        He said to the boy, "What are you doing?"
        The child replied, "I'm singing Christmas carols."
        The man said, "Why, Son, it s the middle of January."
        The little boy said, "I know, but I had the measles during Christmas, and I'm just now getting around to doing my
        caroling."
        Nothing could get in the way of his celebration, and it really didn't matter what time of year it was. Christmas
brought joy to this boy s heart, and it ought to bring joy to ours as well.

        There is a legend that says that there was a little brown bird that had built its nest in the very cave in Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born.  According to the legend, the bird had never sung before; but that night, hearing the angel's song, the bird learned to sing.  Ever afterwards when darkness fell, people listened to the nightingale s song, never knowing that, in fact, what they were hearing was an imitation of the angel's song.  Now, of course, that is only legend.  But there is truth in it; for you and I learned to sing at Bethlehem.  Before Christ was born, we had nothing to sing about.

        In the famous cartoon The Family Circus, the little boy in the family was sending a Christmas card to his grandmother.  He said, "I know Grandmother likes only religious cards, so I'm sending her this one with St. Nick on it."  Many of us laugh at that, but in a practical sense, we are the same as that little boy.  For we take great pains to celebrate the secular Christmas, but spend little time preparing for the spiritual Christmas.

        In Bud Blake's Tiger comic strip, two little boys were talking about Christmas.  One said, "We got an artificial tree this year."
            The other said, "Doesn't that bother you?"
            He said, "No, not as long as the presents are real."
        Though we should not be too concerned about the material aspects of Christmas, we do want to make sure that our Christmas is real.

        In the Peanuts comic strip, one of the little girls was saying that Christmas is a time for kindness and joy, and a time when we forgive one another.  Charlie Brown responds by saying, "Why just at Christmas?  Why can't we be kind and forgiving all through the year?"
        She looks at Charlie Brown and says, "What are you, some kind of religious fanatic?"
        Wouldn't it be great if the lessons we learned at Christmas and the attitudes we consider appropriate at Christmas could be exercised the year round?  Wouldn't it be great if we would risk being called religious fanatics for that purpose?

        The craftsmen in Germany are known to make beautiful manger scenes.  These scenes, lovingly carved out of wood, have been sold to many tourists.  It is interesting to note that most of them clothe the participants in Bavarian costumes of Europe rather than the costumes that would have been worn in Jesus' day.  In a sense, this is understandable.  All of us should think of the Christmas story as our story.  Though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He was born for all of us.  We need to view ourselves as participants, and we need to view Christ as one who makes a difference in our own age.

        Kierkegaard told a parable about a prince who fell in love with a peasant maid.  He had noticed her passing by on the street and was instantly infatuated.  He knew that if he went to her as the prince and told of his love, she would certainly accept.  That would be the loyal thing to do.  But he wanted her to have a genuine love for him.
        So he abandoned all of his royal finery and came to live as a peasant in her community.  He shared her life with her, and in that sharing, she fell in love with him.  When he came to be a part of her world, she developed a deep and abiding love.
        It is because of Christ that we are able to love God.  Since God, in Christ, came to be a part of our world, we are enabled to know God as He really is, and to love Him with all of our hearts.

        On Christmas Eve, 1909, a young Japanese seminary student decided to change his part of the world.  He moved into a small house in the worst section of Kobe, Japan.  He decided that he would practice what he preached.  He thought people would believe his Christian preaching if he would identify with their suffering.  So it was that Toyohiko Kagawa began a life-long effort to alleviate the suffering of others.  Isn't it appropriate that he made that move on Christmas Eve?  For someone else made a similar decision once.  God decided to move into our world and to alleviate our suffering.  Christ came and sacrificed His life to make our lives better.

        In Doctor Suess' wonderful children's book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, we find how the Grinch mistakenly believes that he can ruin everyone's Christmas holiday by stealing their presents.  On Christmas morning, expecting to hear moans and cries, the Grinch is surprised to hear carols and songs and happiness.  He discovers that he has not stolen Christmas at all.
        If the Grinch were to steal our presents this Christmas, would our story turn out as Dr. Suess' story?  Have we become so materialistic that the Grinch could steal our Christmas?  If so, then we certainly need to re-evaluate how we celebrate Christmas. For no one can rob us of the joy that Jesus Christ brought into the world.

        A sign over the liquor store said, "Come here for your Christmas spirits."  That message certainly illustrates the  sadness of some people's celebration.  If they think they can receive the Christmas spirit out of a bottle, they are certainly mistaken.  Isn't it indeed sad that our Savior's birth is often marked by drunkenness and licentiousness?

         A family was driving by the church a few days after Christmas when the little boy noticed that the nativity scene  had been taken down.  He said, innocently enough, "I see they've put Jesus away for another year."  Now we all  know what he meant, but there is truth in the fact that many people put Jesus away after Christmas; never knowing that His can be a constant presence the year round.

        John Jacob Niles, the famous folk song authority, tells about a time many years ago when a small group of traveling evangelists came and set up their tents on the courthouse square in his town.  They hung their wash on the Confederate monument.  They began to preach on the courthouse square until the county commissioner decided that it was inappropriate and required them to pack up and leave. But before they left, John Jacob Niles was in the audience when a thin, pale girl, the daughter of an itinerate evangelist, got up and sang a song that he had never heard before.  "I wonder as I wander out under the sky, why Jesus our Savior did come forth to die for poor, lonely people like you and like I.  I wonder as I wander out under the sky."
        Since he was a collector of folk songs, Niles went to her and said, "Where did you hear that song?"
        She said, "I don t remember.  I don't know where I learned it."
        He said, "Is there more to it?"
        She said, "No, I only know this one verse."
        So John Jacob Niles took that song, elaborated on it, and published it.  In its simplicity, it illustrates the feelings all of  us surely have at Christmas.  Truly we can all say, "I wonder as I wander out under the sky, why Jesus our Savior did come forth to die."

        There is a story that's told of a small church that was getting ready for its annual Christmas play.  The boy who was going to play the part of Joseph fell sick and had to call in at the last minute to say that he would not be available for the play.  Someone asked the director of the play what they were going to do now that the actor that was going to play Joseph was sick.  She said, "Well, the only thing I know to do is just write him out of the script."  Unfortunately, in the world, that's what people have done with Christ.  They celebrate the holiday, but they have written Jesus out of the script.

        In the Frank Capra movie It's a Wonderful Life, the main character, George Bailey, is facing a very dismal Christmas.  His business has failed because of the deceitfulness of one of the town's most influential citizens. George, believing he is ruined, determines to take his own life.  He is prevented from suicide by an angel, who gives George a chance to see what life would have been like if he had never been born.  George s hope is restored as he finds out that his acts of kindness have made a difference.  He determines to go back into the real world and face with courage and hope whatever problems he has.  Christmas is a time for us to think about the difference one person made in our lives.  Consider for a moment what this world would have been like if Jesus had not come.  Since He did come, can't we face life courageously and hopefully?

        In the popular Hi and Lois comic strip, the writer often puts into words what is in the mind of the little baby girl who is the pride of the family.  During a comic strip that appeared during the Christmas season, the little girl is pictured as thinking, "I sure do love Christmas, boy do I love Christmas.  I don't know what it s all about yet, but I sure do love it."  Many are in the same boat as this little girl.  They enjoy Christmas, but they just don't know what it's all about.  Think how much more enjoyment they would receive if they understood the full significance of Christmas!

        At Christmas time the families sit down
            and eat at a festive table;
        They sing and tell stories well into the night
            And go on for as long as they are able;
        They finish the last of the pumpkin pie
            And the turkey's been stripped to the bone,
        But one lonely man eats beans from a can
            And celebrates Christmas alone.

        A tattered old wreath that belongs in the trash,
            Hangs from his unpainted door;
        Inside his heart there are carols and songs,
            There is laughter and music galore;
        He does not regret his lone celebration,
            He thinks his life's full to the brim;
        For his tender heart knows and his countenance shows
            That Christ came for people like him.

        The great scholar Jerome needed inspiration as he worked on translating the Scriptures.  He decided that he would do his work in the cave where it is believed Jesus was born.  He spent years there slaving over the Scriptures.  He believed that that place would provide him the encouragement that he needed.  While a visit to Bethlehem is always moving, we should all realize that Christ is constantly present.  He is an ever-present help.

        A tour group visiting the Holy Land was entering the groto where Jesus is believed to have been born.  In the distance, they heard a very familiar tune with very unfamiliar words.  It was a Christmas carol sung by a tour group of Christians from another country and with a different skin color.  Though their cultures differed and their experiences varied widely, these two tour groups
both worshiped the same Savior and shared the same joy while pondering the meaning of His birth.

        Each year we watch the news as people gather in Bethlehem to mark Christmas in the place where Jesus was born.  We watch as armed soldiers mingle with the crowd outside the church.  We see body searches, metal detectors, and security booths. Fortunately, no major incidents have marred the Christmas celebrations during the last several years, although several attempts have been foiled.  Isn't it a shame that the main concern in Bethlehem on Christmas is that there might be acts of violence on the night they honor the birth of Christ and in the place they believe the Prince of Peace was born?
 

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Always a Christmas



Scanned by John Borntrager